Report Cites Aging Workforce On Cape

Dec 19, 2012 by

December 19, 2012

HYANNIS — The Cape and Islands’ workforce is getting older and there aren’t enough young people to fill the needs for skilled labor.

Many of the younger workers have left the area or make up the ranks of the unemployed.

And while the level of education for workers and residents in the area has increased during the past decade, the “post-secondary” options on the Cape remain limited.

An economic report released Tuesday hammered home many of the economic and labor challenges long identified for the Cape and Islands. Area leaders said the report — issued by the New England Public Policy Center of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the quasi-public Commonwealth Corp. — gives them further material to tackle the Cape’s labor problems.

(View the full report for the Cape Cod region)

“It essentially confirmed the trends people are seeing on the ground,” said Robert Clifford, a policy analyst with the Federal Reserve Bank’s New England Police Center who presented the report in an event Tuesday morning at the Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis.

The Cape and Islands had a population of more than 240,000 in 2000, but the weighted annual average between 2008 through 2010 was about 237,500, Clifford said. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 to 2010 American Community Survey numbers found that only 33.6 percent of the area’s labor force was between 25 and 44 years old. That’s a drop from 43.4 percent in 2000. The state average for 2008 through 2010 for that age range was 42.2 percent.

The Cape and Islands had the oldest labor force for all regional labor markets in the state from 2008 through 2010, Clifford said. More than 30 percent of the labor force was 55 and over, compared with the state average of about 20 percent.

According to the report, more than 38 percent of the working-age residents on the Cape and Islands in the 2008-2010 period had a bachelor’s degree or higher. That tops the nearly 36 percent statewide.

Still, in the region itself, the avenues to earn a higher degree are limited, Clifford said. Most bachelor’s degrees earned on the Cape and Islands are from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

But the unemployed on the Cape and Islands are “disproportionately younger and have lower levels of educational attainment” on the Cape and Islands, Clifford said. For example, those between 16 and 34 made up 23.3 percent of the labor force but accounted for 32.5 percent of the unemployment in the region.

But local officials are developing programs to help narrow the gaps identified in the report.

Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Area Chamber of Commerce, said the report highlighted needs for the area.

“It puts more emphasis about the need to get serious about a four-year college and to figure out market-rate rentals,” she said. “Clearly, housing is a barrier to attracting and keeping younger people.”

Bridgewater State University confirmed this fall it was looking at the Cape as a site for “continuing education and graduation education” programs. Northcross and Cape and Islands Workforce Investment Board executive director David Augustinho hope to meet with Bridgewater officials about the possible offerings on the Cape.

Augustinho said the board is working with Cape Cod Community College to match workers’ skills with the jobs available on the Cape. That could help solve some of the skills gap, he said, which is leaving many employers unable to fill skilled positions with local workers.

Through a state grant, the community college and workforce investment board started an accelerated certificate program this fall. Janet Harrington, program manager for the grant, said the 16 -to 24-week program cuts in half the amount of time it takes to earn the certificate. The first field, medical coding and billing, started in September, she said. Studies in computerized accounting, bookkeeping clerk and medical receptionist fields will start in January. The project aims to help unemployed and underemployed people get back to work quicker. It could also help people climb the employment ladder, she said.

Even after the grant runs out in two years, the accelerated option will become ingrained in the college, she said. Planners also want to ramp up online classes.

“The more education, the more (students’) jobs are secure and the longer they can enjoy better pay,” she said.

Several area leaders said OpenCape, a Capewide fiber-optic Internet project expected to be fully installed by next month, should open more avenues for businesses and entrepreneurs.

“OpenCape brings clear opportunity for job diversification,” Northcross said.

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